Advocates Align to Fight Proposal to Split Muni/SFMTA

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk San Francisco, and the San Francisco Transit Riders have come out hard against a proposal to split Muni, operator of San Francisco’s buses and trains, from the rest of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which also oversees street design, stoplights, signs, and taxi and parking regulations.

“The SFMTA is an imperfect institution, and we acknowledge that much must be done to improve its responsiveness and performance,” wrote the heads of the advocacy groups in a joint letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “Rather than fixing the SFMTA’s shortcomings, however, this charter amendment will compound them. It brings a hammer to a problem that requires a scalpel, breaking up an agency that has worked to incrementally improve transit and traffic amid an influx of tens of thousands of additional vehicles in recent years.”

The letter was signed by Brian Wiedenmeier, Executive Director of the SFBC, Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director, SPUR, and Jodie Medeiros, Executive Director of Walk SF.

The existence of the proposal first became known last week, when news broke that supervisors Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safai planned to introduce a ballot measure to split the agency. The SF Examiner reported at the time that “pushback on the measure would likely be substantial.” A Streetsblog source at the agency explained that the Peskin and Safai amendment, as with past attempts to break up the agency, would allow projects to get even further mired in district politics, since it would give supervisors more control over what goes on in their individual districts.

As the Examiner explained, the proposal evokes 2016’s failed Proposition L, which would have permitted the Board of Supervisors to appoint three of the seven members of the SFMTA board. In its voter guide, SPUR wrote that ‘L’ would split appointments between the mayor and supervisors and add budget oversight by elected officials. The guide warned that it would “…drag the city’s transportation services back into the politics of City Hall rather than maintaining the independent transportation agency the voters asked for in 1999,” referring to Prop. E, which created the SFMTA’s current structure.

Apparently, SPUR and other advocates see this latest proposal as a second attempt at passing L.

“Adding an additional layer of review to every proposed bus stop, parking space, and bike lane promises to further slow the rate of such improvements. People who live and work in our city need better transit and safe streets delivered more quickly,” the advocates wrote in their letter. “Further politicizing the process by which those improvements are approved will only slow things down.”

The Board of Supervisors will decide whether to put the amendment on the June, 2018, ballot tomorrow/Tuesday, 2 p.m., at its regularly scheduled meeting.

  • mx

    I agree this is an awful initiative that would slow down necessary improvements even further, and I’m disappointed that Supervisors I largely respect are pushing this.

    That said, I do think there needs to be some kind of accountability for SFMTA, as the current system results in the BOS shrugging and saying “the mayor appoints the board” and the mayor shrugging and saying “it’s an independent board” while nothing gets done.

    How about a retention election, like we use for judges? Every, I don’t know, six years, the people of the city can decide whether the SFMTA Executive Director and the Director of Transit are doing an adequate job or whether they should be replaced? The term would be long enough to average out the impact of major changes to help avoid political backlash, but it would provide a regular check-in point for the agency to highlight its achievements, provide accurate metrics, and for top staff to make the case that they’re moving things in the right direction.

    Are there problems with this system? Sure. But imagine if the SFMTA brass actually felt they needed to impress the Bike Coalition, SFTRU, Walk SF, etc… on a regular basis.

  • Earl D.

    I don’t get it. How is such a vain, vindictive, reactionary, impediment to getting anything done in SF like Peskin continually reelected to BOS? When he’s term-limited out (again) we have to concentrate on getting a sup who can beat him. Of all of Pak’s questionable legacy getting Peskin back in was her worst.

  • NoeValleyJim

    What the hell is wrong with Peskin?


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